Daughter’s labour of love puts Nollaig centre stage

The late Nollaig Ó Gadhra.
The late Nollaig Ó Gadhra.

Arts Week with Judy Murphy

As a journalist with Raidió na Gaeltachta, Máirín Ní Ghadhra is regularly invited to attend book launches as well as social and political events.  Attending such events, across a vast variety of topics, it regularly crossed her mind that ‘Dad used to write a lot about that’.

But Nollaig Ó Gadhra’s name was not being mentioned on these occasions and Máirín was concerned that people were beginning to forget about the journalist, lecturer, historian and Irish-language activist who died in 2008 at the age of 64. Now, thanks to a new book Nollaig Ó Gadhra, Cuimhní Cairde, which she has edited, his name is centre stage again.

Born in Co Limerick, Nollaig lived for most of his life in Furbo, just west of Galway City, having moved there with his Inverin-born wife, Máirín Ní Chonghaile.

They met in Dublin in the late 1960s, when Máirín was working with Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge and Nollaig, a UCC graduate in Irish and history, was working for the Irish language newspaper Inniú and RTÉ. He left RTÉ when he wasn’t allowed to attend a summer school in Harvard for which he had been awarded as scholarship.

After he and Máirín moved to Galway, Nollaig got a job in tourism before joining the RTC (now GMIT), where he lectured in Irish, Communication, European Studies and Modern History. And he continued to write.

As a biographer, he wrote about Mahatma Gandhi, Edmund Ignatius Rice, the Irish revolutionary and journalist John Boyle O’Reilly and Chicago Mayor Richard J Daley.  But Nollaig’s main interest was in Irish history, particularly around the founding of the Irish State and he also wrote prolifically about that.

To describe him as a contrarian would be a fair comment, says Máirín, as he refused to accept received orthodoxies. Nollaig would argue his point to the bitter end, often with people like fellow journalist and political commentator Eoghan Harris, who held diametrically opposing views.

“They were in college together and were adversaries for years,” she explains, adding that she would often hear them arguing on the phone when she was a child. But there was no animosity.

“They worked in the same area, they had the same friends and they were friends and adversaries.”

So, when Máirín decided to compile a collection of memories of Nollaig written by friends and contemporaries, Eoghan Harris was one of those she approached.

The 20 contributors include Professor Emeritus of History at NUIG, Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh (a fellow Limerick man), politicians Máire Geoghegan Quinn and Éamon Ó Cúiv, and the former head of TG4 and RTÉ Cathal Goan. Nollaig’s brother Michael also shares his childhood memories of the man.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.